The 2014 TLA Plenary at ASTR 2014 was a roaring success. Not only did the conference spark dynamic conversations around the topic of the “post-human” and the broadening spectrum of archival subjects, systems, and sites, over 60 attendees were present at the TLA plenary. Focusing on the role information professionals can play in the ever-evolving relationship between art and technology, the plenary touched on issues of ephemerality, surrogacy and big data. Together with plenary co-chair and TLA Treasurer Colleen Reilly, we posed several questions to the panelists in the original Call for Proposals:
The panel tackled these questions and more in our attempt to locate “post-humanity” within the libraries and archives.
Norah Zuniga Shaw, Associate Professor and Director of Dance and Technology at The Ohio State University, presented on her recent work “Synchronous Objects”. This work examines the organizational structure underlying William Forsythe’s dance “One Last Thing” and the ways in which “digital traces” can subvert the traditional notion of the archive. Zuniga Shaw’s rethinking of the role dance visualization can play in knowledge exchange between artists, scholars, and information professionals was an integral part the TLA plenary’s attempt to situate the “post-human” in our libraries and archives. Her research on screen-based interactive media is exemplary in that it engages artists and archivists in a similar process of meaning-making through metadata creation and dissemination. Norah Zuniga Shaw’s collaboration with choreographers, dancers, librarians, and archivists is indicative of trends in digital humanities. This radical recentering of the role humans play in the generation of data and location of meaning within data was echoed by all members of the plenary.
Doug Reside, TLA Board Member and Curator for the Billy Rose Theatre Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, discussed “Preserving Digital Designs.” Focusing on Vectorworks and data comprising saved Vectorworks files, Reside highlighted unique facets of “born digital” creative works and the importance of acknowledging the presence and performance of data in works with no analog representation. The use of proprietary software to create set designs poses challenges for librarians and archivists in the performing arts, including issues with lossy file formats, unpredictable performances of software scripts across programs, and software emulators. Doug ultimately demonstrated various ways that traces of a scenic artist’s creativity can be found in the data of a Vectorworks file, and how that data can be turned into valuable metadata for a performing arts library.
Nancy Friedland, TLA President and Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies and Performing Arts at Columbia University presented the talk “Digging into Data.” “Digging into Data” brought up many important historical issues that could be overlooked in an initial assessment of “post-humanity” within theatre libraries and archives. Situating the roots of “post-human” phenomena in post-Vietnam disillusionment and its contemporaneous science fiction literature, Friedland stressed that “big data” is the current manifestation of the “post-human” in libraries and archives. The focus of her talk was on the structured and unstructured data available through proprietary resources and the open web. Though hyperlinks and enhanced searching techniques employed by search engines like Google Scholar “empower” searchers digging for data, Friedland noted that not all information on the web is available to every researcher – there is extraordinary indexed content that makes up the dark web. Therefore, a truly “post-human” library or archive would depend greatly on open access. In order to contextualize what algorithms (evidenced as part of a “post-humanity”) say about human creativity and culture, Friedland suggests that libraries push publishers to open their data for greater analysis by more researchers.
Again, a big thank you to our dynamic plenary speakers and to our audience for an engaging TLA plenary at ASTR 2014! At first it seemed a potentially insurmountable task to situate the “post-human” within theatre libraries and archives but with the help of TLA members and ASTR attendees it was a fruitful and dynamic endeavor that highlighted the increasingly complex relationship between technology and the performing arts. I look forward to continuing similar conversations with TLA members in the upcoming year and at future TLA plenaries!